Here we are, 16th night of Zappadan, when we tell our Kennie and Ronnie Booger stories around the campfire, dunking our Burnt Weenie Sandwiches in the Lumpy Gravy.Later, there will come a time when You Can Even Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance, wah wah wah wah...What, no one wants to start?
Uhh, okay, ahem....
It all started in 1965, in a school social hall, in the basement of the grade school across the street from where I lived in Detroit. There was an attempt at creating a teen club. I went with some of my neer do well friends, 15 year olds who were some how different. We liked rock music, thought the Yardbirds were the greatest thing on earth and had the delusion that we were going to start a band and become really cool!
I walked in and a few kids were hanging around and some cheesy music was playing on the cheap tinny PA system. Then a moment of silence and a strange huge sound came slithering out of the air.
I tried to grasp it, it was too big, too strange and too distorted by the cheap tinny sound system for me to grasp it. It sounded like two giant balloons being rubbed together! When the nuns began to run to the back to stop the hideous din, I knew that I had been a witness to something awesome!
As my friend George was being ejected from the hall, I left with him and asked him what he had put on the sound system. He grinned and showed me a copy of FREAK OUT by Frank Zappa and the Mother of Invention!
Over the next few months I listened to and absorbed the esthetic behind the noise. I was already a developing young visual artist who idolized the surrealists and even more so the anti-esthetic of the DA DA movement of the early 20th century. My heroes were Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp. Zappa seemed to be the perfect mid 20th century extension of this to me. The Freak Out album is still important to me and I find myself listening to it again and again and always finding something wonderful that I have never heard before. One of the Great Protest Songs of all time is on the record, Trouble Comin' Everyday, a song written in reaction to the media coverage of the Watts Riots in LA, but the sentiment, vitriolic and corrosive is timelesss!
This was a composer who was equally influenced by Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Edgar Varese. He was self taught and scored movies at the age of 18. He appeared on the Steve Allen Show when he was 19 as a composer and performed with Steve Allen a piece of music for Electric Bicycle, tapes, and jazz combo. The results are viewable now on YouTube! He owned and operated a recording studio that released doowop records, novelty recordings and some pretty good dirty rock! He was a true American original, in thought, talent and action.
I got to see The Mothers of Invention perform a year later in Detroit at the Ford Auditorium. I was the art editor of an early student underground paper from Cass Tech High School called Yellow. I did an ad for the Ford Auditorium Show. I got a ticket for the ad and saw a program that had the Mothers abusing the Ford Auditorium stage elevator, doing a medley of doo wop and rock covers with Frank announcing the Label, Artist, Record registration # before each song. Then they did songs from Freak Out including the title song of my blog "Who Are The Brain Police?". At the end of the show they did a early version of the monstrous jazz piece, King Kong! I was never the same!
There you have it, my first introduction to the music of Zappa. I saw him quite a few times after that...a bizarre performance at The Grande Ballroom in Detroit in 68 that involved the ritual abuse of large stuffed giraffe, then numerous times in the 70's with various configurations of musicians and finally some of the performances at the Palladium and The Pier in New York. The performance in the Video was with The Ensemble Modern in 1992. Zappa is conducting G Spot Tornado with a grand interpretive dance performance in Germany, shortly before he died.
The specific time and circumstances allowed the freedom that permitted this singular, unique American artist to have a career outside of the constraints of the corporate music industry.
We have seen others try it...but not with the uncompromising vision of Zappa...will it ever happen again? or will we discover that.....
IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE.........